Rebutting the Pro-Union Narrative against Alabama Manufacturing Industry

Business owners, employees, and public officials from across the state will gather in Montgomery this week as the Business Council of Alabama presents its annual “Manufacturer of the Year” awards during a gala luncheon event.

The awards seek to honor manufacturers – from the largest industrial employers to the smallest mom-and-pop businesses – for displaying efficiency, safety, and excellence in their products and the process for making them.

But that reality is in direct contrast to the distressing portrait offered in a recent Bloomberg News article that promotes union membership by comparing Alabama to third-world countries like Bangladesh and claiming our manufacturing facilities are plagued with dangerous, unsafe, and even deadly workplace conditions.

While every workplace accident resulting in injury, no matter the location, is unfortunate and regrettable, the picture of Alabama painted by Bloomberg News is as surrealistic and distorted as a Salvador Dali painting. Rather than reflect our status as a national leader in manufacturing and industrial recruitment whose successes and achievements regularly appear in the pages of Fortune Magazine, Bloomberg portrays us as a state of ignorant and uneducated hillbillies who would be more at home in the pages of a Lil’ Abner comic strip.

Penned by a San Francisco-based reporter and titled, “Inside Alabama’s Auto Jobs Boom: Cheap Wages, Little Training, Crushed Limbs,” the report focused on a handful of tragic and unfortunate workplace-related accidents that have occurred within the tens of thousands of automotive industry jobs across the state. It reads more like a tacky advertisement for a plaintiff trial lawyers’ firm than the objective, unbiased report it claims to be.

Even more misleading, several of the incidents cited in the article occurred in manufacturing facilities located in neighboring Georgia, not Alabama.

To support its broad-based claim that Alabama manufacturing companies mistreat their workers, the Bloomberg reporter cherry-picked certain statistics while ignoring others that dispute his flawed thesis. The reporter offered consistently inaccurate summaries of unrelated incidents at unrelated companies to concoct a false news pattern to generalize about all Alabama manufacturers.

The reporter claims that Ohio and Michigan, both heavily unionized states, are workplace utopias when compared with Alabama, but a closer look at the facts dispute his contention. Consider for a moment that the injury rate in Alabama’s vehicle parts’ manufacturing industry rests at 4.4 injuries per 100 full-time workers, while Ohio recorded 4.6 injuries, and Michigan logged 4.9 incidents. The reporter would not face the fact that job-hemorrhaging union enclaves he praises as safety havens cannot match the growing Alabama automotive industry’s superior safety record. While everyone strives for an injury rate of zero, it is just wrong to ignore the facts.

We can only speculate who or what group motivates these misrepresentations, but two states with higher injury rates simply cannot be judged as safer places to work.

The article also indicates that Alabama’s lack of labor union participation somehow plays a role in workplace conditions (perhaps revealing the true motivation), but it ignores the fact that employees in several manufacturing plants in Alabama have repeatedly voted against unionizing efforts. One company’s workers even voted five times to oust the United Auto Workers union after it had gained a toehold in the facility.

In addition, the reporter failed to cite the fact that Alabama voters ratified a right-to-work constitutional amendment by a 70 percent to 30 percent margin last November. The amendment specifically states that union membership may not be considered an employment requirement at any workplace within Alabama. Many predict it will drive union participation to all-time lows in the state.

Luckily, not all of the media are viewing Alabama and its sister Southeastern states through the same psychedelic prism that Bloomberg used.

A recent report by Reuters showed that the nine southern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas currently comprise a larger share of the U.S. economy than nine northern Rust Belt states that traditionally led industrial manufacturing in the last century.

It noted that manufacturing companies like Remington Outdoor, which moved from New York State to Alabama, and Polaris Industries, which located its outdoor vehicle assembly plant in Huntsville, made the decision based on low taxes, available land, and the worker training services offered by the state.

Indeed, the state’s AIDT agency, the workforce training division of the Alabama Department of Commerce, is currently ranked as the third-best department of its kind in the nation.

Given the strong economic climate in Alabama, it should come as no surprise that Site Selection Magazine, perhaps the most respected publication among economic developers, has consistently ranked Alabama as one of the nation’s 10 best states in which to conduct business.

Neither the reporter nor those behind the article can force jobs back into the union shops from which they continue to flee in droves. By publishing this piece, Bloomberg News must want to spread the misery by trying to see Alabama’s manufacturing jobs move out of the country.

Bloomberg News should be ashamed for the false caricature, unsupported accusations, and “fake news” that it allowed to be printed within its pages. As the BCA presents its Manufacturer of the Year awards this week, we will choose to focus, instead, on highlighting the reality of Alabama’s burgeoning industrial landscape and the hope and promise it offers to those seeking better jobs and new opportunities.